A few years ago, I was on a panel at WisCon called “Military Women: Past, Present and Future.” (It’s amazing how often I end up on panels with names like that.)
This panel was held at 8:30 AM on Monday – the last day of the con – and I didn’t have high hopes for it. But we had a large and enthusiastic audience, and, as my co-panelist David Haseman noted at the end, we did not end up mired down in the usual discussion of whether women could really be effective soldiers. (Both Haseman, a former colonel in the Army, and I think women can be – and indeed currently are – excellent soldiers.)
After WisCon, I wrote an essay reflecting on some of the topics we covered in that panel. It was published in The WisCon Chronicles Volume 1, available from Aqueduct Press. The rest of this post is a slightly revised excerpt.
An audience member brought up the Heinlein quote, “An armed society is a polite society.” But in advocating that everyone learn something about self defense, I’m not arguing that we should revert to a society where everyone carries a gun or a sword—even if everyone includes women. Giving everyone a weapon is a more simplistic response than training everyone in the broad range of skills that provide self defense.
In the first place, while I do believe that most people who have seriously studied the arts of war are less likely than others to fight unless it is absolutely necessary, I question that “armed” leads to “polite.” Too many people assume that having a weapon gives them an edge over others, and it’s easy enough to learn how to use a gun without learning any of the restraint taught in martial arts or even the military.
In the second place, self defense has very little to do with fighting. Fighting skills can come in handy and learning them is a sure way to build self confidence, but most people will rarely, if ever, need to fight to protect themselves or someone else. In fact, when I teach Aikido, I point out to my students that the most important self defense technique they will learn is how to fall down and get back up. Not only will that help you if you should get attacked, it will also come in handy when you slip on the ice or take a header off a bicycle—things that are much more likely to happen.
Here are some of the skills people should develop to protect themselves and others:
- Pay attention: See what is going on before what is going on sees you.
- Show a confident, but not overaggressive, presence: Find the balance between standing your ground and running roughshod over your adversary.
- Be flexible: Change your route, change your plans, adapt to the situation.
- Trust your intuition: If your gut says a situation is dangerous, get out of it and figure out why later.
- Learn what to fear: The things that frighten us the most emotionally—stranger assaults and terrorist attacks—are not nearly as big a risk as more ordinary actions, such as driving a car.
Perhaps most importantly, women and men need to learn something about self defense because it teaches you to accept risk in your life and to understand and deal with your own capacity for anger and violence.
On the whole, I’d say a society in which people have learned to pay attention to what is happening around them and come to terms with their own anger will be a polite society—perhaps even a civilized one.
Nancy Jane’s flash fiction this week is “The Wrong Butterfly.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.
Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.